The Plaques of Brighton: The Legacy of Important Figures in Our City
At Brighton Journal we have recently been looking at Brighton’s history in detail as we feel it’s all too often brushed aside by the current cultural hub it has become. Our articles on Brighton’s historical legacy will continue but for now, here is a round-up of some of the most interesting residents commemorated by plaques across Brighton & Hove. From Charles Dickens to Eleanor Marx to the ‘Mother of Modern Witchcraft’ Doreen Valiente, Brighton has long been home to the most weird and wonderful of people.
Charles Dickens at The Bedford Hotel (now The Holiday Inn)
Dickens wrote his novel ‘Dombey & Son’ whilst staying at the Bedford Hotel. Before a fire burned down The Bedford Hotel it was a luxurious escape known to the London creative scene. Standing as a five-storey Georgian building Dickens found solace in the sea-front getaway. The Bedford is the same hotel Graham Greene uses as the hub of gang leader Mr Colleoni in Brighton Rock…one for the literary heads!
Mrs Maria Fitzherbert at 55 Old Steine (now Steine House/YMCA)
The mistress of the Prince Regent, Maria Fitzherbert lived here from 1804 until her death in 1837, at the age of eighty. The building, which is now the YMCA, housed the now infamous Fitzherbert. We’ll be doing a ‘Brighton Past’ piece on her soon so keep an eye on our site to find out more about her!
William Ewart Gladstone at the Adelphi Hotel, Pool Valley
William Ewart Gladstone was the Prime Minister during the reign of Queen Victoria. Gladstone had a sixty year career within British politics and was PM for four terms of that. He frequently stayed at Lion Mansions Hotel near Pool Valley. He started in the Conservative Party as a ‘High Tory’ before joining the breakaway ‘Peelite’ faction which became the new Liberal Party in 1859…nice to know Brighton has turned people liberal for over 100 years!
Martha Gunn at 36 East Street
We wrote an in-depth piece on Martha Gunn recently. She was a favourite of the Prince Regent whilst working as the ‘Queen of Dippers’. She and her ‘bathing women’ worked closely with Richard Russell’s groundbreaking idealogies of sea-water bathing, which encouraged ‘dipping’ women and children in the sea for various health benefits. Read more about her here!
Eleanor Marx at 6 Vernon Terrace
Jenny Julia Eleanor Marx was the youngest daughter of Karl Marx. She was a socialist activist who also worked as a literary translator. She worked for a majority of her life within politics and believed in the arts as a socialist and feminist tool. A truly interesting woman Marx is worth looking into more! In 1898 she committed suicide by poison after finding out her longtime partner Edward Aveling had secretly married a young actress a year before.
George Jacob Holyoake at 36 Camelford Street
George Jacob Holyoake was the last man in England to be jailed for atheism in 1851. He was a social reformer and the first president of the Brighton Equitable Co-Operative Society. In 1842, Holyoake and fellow socialist Emma Martin formed the Anti-Persecution Union to support free thinkers, or those who thought differently to the government, in danger of arrest.
Max Miller at 25 Burlington Street
Perhaps one of Brighton’s most famous residents, comedian and entertainer, Max Miller lived here from 1948 until his death. Over his long career, Miller called Brighton home. This was to the extent he preferred to only play in the south of England so he could return to his “beloved home.”
Sir Rowland Hill at 11 Hanover Crescent
Sir Rowland Hill was a postal reformer. He introduced the penny post and the Penny Black stamp in 1840. His continued promotion for letter boxes led to the public and private ones we have today. He was so influential in the history and legacy of Britain that his final resting place is Westminster Abbey. His accreditation with the basic concepts of the modern postal stamp and system led to him receiving a ‘Knights of the Bath’ medal and receiving the ‘Fellowship of the Royal Society’ award.
Sir Laurence Olivier at 4 Royal Crescent
Actor-director and film star Sir Laurence Oliver, lived in Brighton from 1961-1979. He commuted to the National Theatre on the Brighton Belle and in 1972 fought to keep kippers on the Breakfast menu…celebrities eh! During his Brighton residence he knocked through two houses on Royal Crescent to create what must have been one of Brighton’s most desirable houses!
Dr Richard Russell at the Royal Albion Hotel, Old Steine
Briefly mentioned above with Martha Gunn, Dr Richard Russell is in-part responsible for the development of Brighton into a desired seaside resort. He was famous for his ‘seawater cure’ which claimed it could help with a multitude of ailments and illnesses. Dr Russell lived and worked from a house on the site of the Royal Albion Hotel from 1753 to 1759.
Doreen Valiente at Tyson Place, Grosvenor Street
The most intriguing character on this list is Doreen Valiente. She was known as the ‘Mother of Modern Witchcraft.’ She was responsible for writing for much of the early religious liturgy (practices and rituals) within ‘Gardnerian Wicca.’ She was the high priestess of Gerald Gardner”s Bricket Wood coven and moved to Brighton to live out her final years. See more in our article on her!
George Albert Smith at 18 Chanctonbury Road
George Albert Smith began making films of Brighton life and comedy sketches in 1896. He worked with James Williamson with whom he developed the first ever film colour process ‘Kinemacolor’. He worked as a hypnotist, psychic and more importantly became a member of the ‘Brighton School’, a group of early film pioneers. His short films were early pioneers of film editing and close-ups. His eclectic mix of skills made Smith a local legend in Brighton…keep your eyes peeled for a more in-depth piece on him!
Margaret Powell at 222 Old Shoreham Road
Margaret Powell is best known for her book on experiences within the domestic service, Below Stairs. She started as a laundry maid before working, and cleverly fibbing, her way through the system to become an under-maid then kitchen maid and finally a cook. Following the success of her first book release, Powell went on to become a well-loved TV personality and radio presenter. Below Stairs went on to inspire the BBC’s ‘Upstairs Downstairs’ and ITV’s ‘Downton Abbey’.
Sir Winston Churchill at 29-30 Brunswick Road
A list of famous residents of Brighton would not be complete without a mention of Winston Churchill. The “colossus of British 20th century politics” was sent to a private school here as a child before going on to Harrow. It’s a push to say he actually lived here or was influenced by the city but a claim to fame nonetheless!
Rudyard Kipling at The Elms, The Green, Rottingdean
The beloved writer Rudyard Kipling lived in Rottingdean from 1897- 1903 before moving to Burwash, East Sussex. He lived in Sussex from 1897 until his death in 1936. Kipling Gardens are still standing and well worth the bus trip. Located in the centre of the small village if you can’t cope with the loud of the beach in peak-summer , this is the perfect secluded hideaway!
Magnus Volk at 128 Dyke Road
We’ve written about Magnus Volk before. The inventor and electricity pioneer rose to fame with Volk’s Electric Railway and the implementation of electricity in Brighton. He first equipped his own home and later some of Brighton’s public buildings with electric lights bringing even more people to the city. It is thanks to pioneers such as Magnus Volk, Dr Richard Russell and Martha Gunn that Brighton became the famed city it is today!